Vol. 4 Num 313 Fri. April 16, 2004  
Front Page

BBC Listeners' Poll
Bangabandhu judged greatest Bangali of all time

Founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been adjudged the "Greatest Bangali of All Time" by a listener's poll conducted by the Bengali Service of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on April 14.

The second place went to Nobel prize-winning poet and playwright Rabindranath Tagore, while rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam sealed the third spot.

Another Nobel laureate, economist Amartya Sen, was the only living person to feature among the top 20 at number 14. The survey put only one woman in the top 20, Rokeya Sakhawaat Hossain, at number six.

Popularly known as Bangabandhu or Friend of Bengal, Sheikh Mujib was born on March 17, 1920, in Tungipara of Gopalganj district and spearheaded the country's independence struggle. He was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military putsch on August 15, 1975 at his residence.

His historic speech on March 7, 1971 changed the course of the struggle for independence in the then Pakistan and gave millions of Bangalis a new sense of direction. Sheikh Mujib possessed the rare quality of harnessing the awesome power of the masses that overthrew the military regime standing in the way of Bangladesh's liberation.

The former Bangladesh president was one of the scores of politicians to figure prominently in the poll, including Ziaur Rahman, the assassinated husband of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The BBC survey, beginning on February 11 and running through March 22, produced 140 names and the top 20 were compiled on points awarded according to listeners' order of preference. The greatest Bangali was adjudged by the highest number of points accumulated from the preference the BBC received from its listeners, not from the percentage of their names proposed by listeners.

The BBC's Bengali Service has nearly 12 million listeners in Bangladesh and eastern India, home to some 250 million Bangla speakers.

Listeners were asked to nominate their five greatest Bangali. The names were announced through a countdown over 20 days that began on March 26, the Independence Day, and ended in the announcement of Sheikh Mujib's name on April 14, Pahela Boishakh.

The others are Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Haq (fourth), Subhash Chandra Bose (fifth), Rokeya Shakhawaat Hossain (sixth), Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (seventh), Ishwar Chandra Bidyasagar (eighth), Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (ninth), Raja Ram Mohan Roy (10th), Mir Nasir Ali Titumeer (11th), Lalon Shah (12th), Satyajit Ray (13th), Prof Amartya Sen (14th), Martyrs of the Language Movement of 1952 (15th), Dr Mohammad Shahidullah (16th), Swami Vivekananda (17th), Atish Dipankar (18th), Ziaur Rahman (19th), and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (20th).

"Thousands participated in the survey from Bangladesh, eastern India and other countries of the world," says Sabir Mustafa, the head of BBC Bengali Service, while talking to The Daily Star yesterday. "The participants were asked to nominate five names chronologically. And from the response we believe that the participants were independently thinking about their nominations. It appears they were not driven by any political motive."

The top nominee bagged five points and the fifth nominee got one point. The BBC made their selection of the top 20 persons on the basis of the total points each of them polled.

He noted many respondents named Tagore, Bangabandhu and Golam Azam in the same nomination sheet. "This shows that the respondents were not considering the names on the basis of their political affiliation," Sabir noted.

He added that the point margin between Bangabandhu and Tagore was nearly double, Tagore got almost double the point of Nazrul and Nazrul got nearly double the points of Sher-e-Bangla. All other nominees have narrow difference of points.

Beyond the top 20, respondents picked Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia, Kader Siddiqui, MAG Osmani, Chittarnajan Das and Sourav Ganguli, the current Indian national cricket team captain.

Most of the voters were from Bangladesh. "Bangladeshi voters think very highly of Subhash Chandra Bose, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Bidyasagar, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Atish Dipankar," Sabir points out.

The Bengali Service chief also explains why they decided to run a survey based on the concept of greatest Bangali. "[It is] Because the modern concept of media is to increase interactive programmes with listeners inputs. Survey increases interactivity. Secondly, this survey outcomes resulted in programmes on the lives of these people. This is an enlightening experience for all. And finally, the listeners and the people feel proud of their heritage."

BBC Bengali Service borrowed the idea from BBC TV's last year's programme "Greatest Britons".

"Next, we have plans to hold a survey on the century's greatest songs," Sabir reveals, "because our listeners love music and because the radio is a perfect medium for it."